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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region. If you would like to contribute to SFA’s oral history collections, please send your ideas for oral history along with your CV or Resume and a portfolio of prior oral history work to

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Charlie’s Steak House

Matt Dwyer

The Southern Foodways Alliance awarded Charlie’s Steak House with the Guardian of the Tradition title in July 2005 for several reasons. Among them were its decades-long persistence in oversized steaks sputtering customers with butter; its homey atmosphere, generated in large part by the restaurant’s below-average, but somehow comfortable, cleanliness standards; and its lone waitress, Dottye Bennett, the aging and accommodating daughter of the steakhouse’s founder.

Charlie’s was a no-rhyme-nor-reason kind of place. It functioned without menus, without a visible staff beyond Miss Dottye and one waiter, and oftentimes without much of any food—you ordered what they had. New Orleanians never quite understood how Charlie’s stayed in business, and yet they expected it would always be there.

Charlie’s didn’t reopen following Hurricane Katrina, and it showed no sign of resurrection by the time we conducted our first round of interviews for our New Orleans Eats project in 2007. We couldn’t locate an owner or get in touch with Miss Dottye. Instead, we found three New Orleanians who loved the place—Alex Rawls, Duke Eversmeyer, and Gene Bourg—to share their memories.

Then, in August 2008, Matt Dwyer, a former sometimes-employee at Charlie’s and a neighbor of the restaurant, reopened the steakhouse. He had remodeled the long-neglected building and improved on the steaks, but beyond some fresh paint, brighter light bulbs, and more succulent beef, the changes were minimal. The regulars returned. Matt spoke with us a month after opening.

Date of interview:

Sara Roahen

Sara Roahen

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The Southern Foodways Alliance drives a more progressive future by leading conversations that challenge existing constructs, shape perspectives, and foster meaningful discussions. We reconsider the past with research, scrutiny, and documentation.


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